Month: January 2019

Pastor's Blog

The Context of the Covenant

This past Sunday, we talked about how important it is for us to read the Old Testament within the context of the covenants. In particular, from the book of Joshua onwards, everything we read takes place within the context of the Mosaic Covenant. Keeping this covenant in mind—especially the blessings and curses of this covenant which are spelled out in Deuteronomy 28 & 30—is absolutely crucial for making sense of the rest of the story.

We considered some examples of this on Sunday, but here’s another one: do you remember Jabez from 1 Chronicles 4? Apparently his birth wasn’t too pleasant, and so his mom essentially named him “Pain.” But then we read that Jabez “called upon the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!’ And God granted what he asked” (1 Chronicles 4:9–10).

Jabez was praying that God would give him more land and keep him from suffering. In other words, he was praying for material, physical blessing. And that was okay for him to pray for, because material blessing and freedom from suffering was a part of what God had promised them in that covenant (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). Jabez was essentially asking that in spite of the “curse” of his bad name, God would still keep His covenant promises to him.

Therefore, the way that we should apply Jabez’ example to our lives is not to pray his prayer verbatim, even though a very popular book a few years ago recommended this. Instead, we should ask, “Which covenant are we a part of? What are the promised blessings of this covenant?” And then we will ask the Lord to fulfill those promises to us. This line of thought will lead us towards passages like Ephesians 1:3-23, in which the Apostle Paul lists our New Covenant blessings in Christ, and then responds in prayer.

A second example of this principle at work is found when we consider God’s words to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13–14).

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard this passage applied to us today, taking it to say that if we Christians will confess our sins, then God will bring blessing and prosperity to our land, which must be Canada. But this passage was not addressed to New Covenant Canadians; it was addressed to Old Covenant Israel, and in it, God was simply repeating and reminding Solomon of His covenant promises from Deuteronomy 30:1-10.

While these specific promises of Deuteronomy 30 may not apply to us New Covenant Christians, that doesn’t mean that this passage has no meaning to us. We should apply this passage to ourselves by remembering that God Himself has not changed, and so He will be faithful to fulfill the promised blessings of the New Covenant to us.

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

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Thank God It’s Friday?

For many people in the world today, work is a necessary evil. They see it as something they have to do so they can pay for the stuff they really want to do: watch movies, enjoy their hobbies, spend time with friends, travel. This is what we might call the “TGIF” mentality.

We’ve seen this week that the Bible’s teaching on work points us 180° in the opposite direction. Work isn’t something we have do to so that we can get on with our life; work is our life. Good works are literally what we’ve been created for (Ephesians 2:10).

An important question is raised by all of this: what about rest and leisure? Are we ever allowed to take time and relax? Is watching a movie or spending a day at the beach even allowed in the Christian life?

Common-sense wisdom would suggest the answer is “yes.” Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and if we want to make it for the long haul, we need to pace ourselves.

We also see an instructive pattern in the Old Covenant. Taking one day in seven to rest was a command (Exodus 20:8-11), and there were several other layers of divinely-instituted rest woven into Israel’s life. (See Exodus 34:21-24 & Leviticus 25:1-22 for examples.) Work was to be sustained by regular rest.

In the New Covenant, we are not bound to observe the Sabbaths and Feasts (Colossians 2:16-17), and yet we’d be foolish to ignore the wisdom of these patterns God established for His people. After all, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for … training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). One of the ways that the Old Testament Scriptures equip us for every good work is by showing us the importance of regular rest.

However, it bears repeating again that work is not something we need in order to enjoy rest; rather, rest is something we need in order to be able to give ourselves more fully to our work.

I recently read an article in which renowned theologian J.I. Packer wrote of his enjoyment for light reading—especially detective novels. And the question that Packer himself asked is, “[Should I] repent of time wasted in…light reading?” His answer was a clear “no”: “If overloaded academic and literary people never read for relaxation, their brains will break…Light reading is not for killing time (that’s ungodly), but for refitting the mind to tackle life’s heavy tasks (that’s the Protestant work ethic, and it’s true).” 1

I believe that Packer hits the nail on the head, and his statement about killing time is one we should thoughtfully apply to ourselves. Do we use rest and hobbies and leisure to kill time? Or, do we understand that killing time is ungodly (see Ephesians 5:15-16), and instead use our rest and hobbies and leisure, as needed, to rejuvenate ourselves so that we can get back into the game?

If we are truly devoted to good works (Titus 3:8, 14), we can say “Thank God it’s Friday.” But we’ll say it genuinely, and with perspective. We’ll say it because we’re looking forward to using our weekend both for rest and for good works. And we’ll also be thanking God when it’s Monday, and we get to go back to work for the glory of God.

Pastor's Blog

As Much Good as You Can

We heard on Sunday and here on the blog this week about the intersection between our “normal” work and the good works which God has called us to give our lives to.

It’s important to recognize that at many stages in world history, people didn’t have a lot of choice as to what kind of “normal” work they did. The job market wasn’t always as wide open as it is for us today. This is especially true when we think about the slaves and bondservants whom Paul wrote to (Colossians 3:22-25, Ephesians 6:5-8, 1 Corinthians 7:21-24, Titus 2:9-10). They had no choice but to do what they were told. And it would have been encouraging for them to hear that their work, whatever it was, mattered for eternity when they did it for Jesus.

But many of us—especially those of us who are younger—have a lot more choice in the kind of work that we will do. And so I would encourage all of us to consider ways in which we can make our “normal” work line up with our good works as much as possible. If you have the freedom to choose what kind of work you’ll do, why not choose work that allows you to do as much good work as possible, and which connects as closely as possible with God’s purposes for planet earth?

I have a book on my shelf called 80,000 Hours, published by an organization of the same name. Their goal is to help people make a difference with their careers, and so they ask questions like, “what are the world’s most pressing problems?” and “which jobs help people the most?” The goal, according to them, is to choose a career that will do the most good for the world.

To my knowledge, these folks aren’t Christians and aren’t operating out of a Biblical worldview. I disagree with many of their specific suggestions. And yet I believe that this way of thinking is on the right track. If you get to pick what you do, why not pick something that does as much good as possible?

What would it look like for followers of Christ to think this way within a Biblical worldview? Yes, it’s true that all of our work (as long as it’s not sinful or harmful) can honour the Lord and count for eternity. We know that so many of our “normal” jobs have eternal impact, like we discussed on the blog here this week.

But if we have the option, why not choose a job that lets you do as much good work as you can? Parents, as you talk to your children, why not encourage them to choose a career that puts them as close to the front lines of the mission of God in the world as possible?

Making these kinds of choices is easier than ever in today’s globally-oriented economy, in which so many “normal” jobs are valuable assets around the world. I love hearing stories about mechanics and bankers and teachers who choose to move overseas and do their “normal” work in a part of the world untouched by the gospel. I love hearing about university students who intentionally get a degree in a field that will give them access to an otherwise restricted country. These people might not look like your typical missionaries, but they are in that country—working their jobs, building relationships, starting conversations, using whatever opportunities they have—for the sake of the gospel.

This is just one example of a way to more intentionally connect your work with the good work God has called us to. Have any suggestions of your own? Any questions about how you could do this more yourself? Send me a note; I’d love to talk.

Pastor's Blog

Your Job Matters

The New Testament repeatedly reinforces the goodness of work, and sometimes in surprising ways. One such case is in Luke chapter 3, where we find John the Baptist preaching his message of repentance to the crowds. And in verse 12 we read that “tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’” Similarly, verse 14 tells us that “Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what shall we do?’” (Luke 3:12, 14).

Tax collectors and soldiers were a key part of the Roman force which was occupying Judea at that time. To the Jewish people, they were the oppressors, the enemy. These were the guys who made them pray and long for the Messiah.

And so we might expect radical, repentance-preaching John to tell these guys to quit their jobs. To stop collecting money for the Roman government. To stop fighting Rome’s wars and oppressing Judea. To lay down their moneybags and swords and become a part of God’s people.

Instead, what does John say to the tax collectors in verse 13? “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” In other words, be a good tax collector. Be ethical. But keep doing your job.

And what does he say in verse 14 to the soldiers? “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” In other words, be a good soldier. Don’t abuse your position.

John does what nobody expected him to do. He refuses to say that these guys’ jobs were inherently bad. Repenting of their sin didn’t mean leaving Rome’s employ.

That much is clear. But there’s actually a lot more going on here behind the scenes, especially regarding these two particular jobs of tax collecting and soldiering. To begin to explore that, consider Galatians 4:4, which tells us that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.” There was a reason God waited until He did to send His son. The time had to be “full.” Certain things had to be ready, in place.

A significant part of that readiness was the Roman Empire. It’s easy for us to forget that throughout those 400 years of history in between the Old and New Testaments, the world was in upheaval. The Babylonian Empire had been taken over by the Persian Empire which was conquered by the Greek Empire which fell apart and fought amongst itself until the Romans took over.

Yet even then there were constant civil wars between the different Roman generals, riots in the cities, and tension across borders. In the hundred years before Christ was born, Rome descended to a place of almost total lawlessness. And all this meant that the world was a dangerous place—especially when it came to travel and communication. Pirates made the seas dangerous, robbers made the roads dangerous, and angry revolutionaries meant the cities were often little better.

But around 30 BC, Caesar Augustus began to accumulate power for himself, uniting Rome as an Empire and becoming it’s very first Emperor. He used his new power to bring stability and peace to the Roman Empire, ushering in a period known as the Pax Romana (the “Peace of Rome.”) What he was able to accomplish has been referred to by some historians as a miracle.

Augustus hired a professional army to stop riots and keep the peace. He established patrol squads to clear the seas of pirates, making shipping and sea travel safer. He built a huge network of roads that connected the whole Empire together, and had them patrolled with soldiers, making distant travel easier and safer than it ever had been. He established a courier service to deliver news and documents around the Empire. He worked to regulate the food supply.

All of this took money, of course. And so Augustus reengineered the taxation system to make it safer and more efficient, and he ordered Empire-wide censuses so that he could accurately tax the provinces.

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered…” (Luke 2:1).

Yes, this first Emperor was the Caesar Augustus of Christmas-story fame. And it was this Roman Empire into which Jesus was born. And it was also this Empire into which Jesus sent His disciples, saying “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)

And go they did. In an astoundingly short period of time—mere decades—the gospel spread and took root all over the Roman world. This rapid explosion of the church is yet another “miracle of history” from that period of time.

If you’ve read through the book of Acts, you’ll be familiar with Paul and his missionary journeys. He travelled far and wide by land and sea. He wrote letters and sent them all over the Empire, and was able to receive money from a great distance.

What we might not realize is that none of this was possible, at least at that scale, before that point in human history. And yet it was possible then because of the Pax Romana. Because of Caesar Augustus. And more specifically, it was possible because of Caesar’s tax collectors and Caesar’s soldiers. 

Tax collectors were the ones who funded the whole thing. They collected the money which made it possible for Rome to build the roads hire the soldiers, who in turn did their part of keeping the roads and seas safe, and the cities peaceful.

So do you see how this all connects up? God used Caesar Augustus, and his tax collectors and soldiers, to get the world ready to receive the gospel. They prepared the way for Jesus’ representatives—the Apostles—to carry His good news far and wide.

This adds so much irony to John the Baptist’s interaction with these two groups. We know that John’s mission was to “prepare the way of the Lord” so that “all flesh” would “see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:4, 6).

And whether they knew it or not, those tax collectors and soldiers had the exact same job. They, too, were preparing the way for the Lord. They were levelling the paths and making it possible for all the world to hear about God’s salvation.

And this meant that their work had significance. Their jobs weren’t just futile and pointless. God was using their “normal” work to enable His gospel to spread and His church to grow.1A similar perspective is shared by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, where prayer for government leaders is connected to the church’s role in the Great Commission.

If you think about it, the same can be said about so many of our jobs today. I once saw a list of all of the jobs required to get one missionary onto the mission field. It was astounding. So much “ordinary” work is needed in order for the “spiritual” work to take place.

Or think about what’s happening right now. I’m typing these words on a computer, and you’re reading them on a device, each of which required thousands of hours of research and development—and thousands of people working on assembly lines—to produce.

What about the last time you read the Bible? Think about the trees harvested, the pages printed, and everything else which made that possible.

Or just remember the last meal you ate. It didn’t fall from the sky. God kept His promise to provide for you (Matthew 6:30-33) using the “ordinary” work of farmers, truck drivers, and grocery store workers, not to mention the engineers and construction workers who designed and built the roads and the trucks and the grocery store itself.

It’s absolutely staggering to step back and consider all the “ordinary” work that has been required for every “spiritual” experience we’ve had in our lives. And this helps us understand a big-picture truth: because Jesus is at work building His church on planet earth, so much of our work actually means something now. It’s no longer vain and meaningless, like the writer of Ecclesiastes lamented. Every day, God uses our ordinary work to do His eternally-significant work.

And this is surely at least one reason why the tax collector and solider were not told to quit their jobs. God was going to use their jobs for the most important thing in the world. And so, their work mattered for eternity.

If you have a job, think about your work. What does it contribute to the world? Who does it help? What does it enable? It might not take you very long to think of ways that God can and will use your work to do His own work.

I trust this perspective will be energizing and encouraging to you in all your work this week and beyond.

Pastor's Blog

The New Creation and the New Humanity

“[God] has begun a new creation through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When Jesus burst from the tomb on that first Easter, he was the first man in the new creation. By believing in Jesus, we are joined to him. We become part of the new creation [2 Corinthians 5:17]. We form the new humanity [Ephesians 2:15] which God is creating.

“Unlike the first creation, where God began by making the world and afterwards made creatures to live in his world, in the new creation he has begun by creating the new humanity and afterwards he will make the new world in which they are to live.”

Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2012), p. 780.
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By Faith

This Sunday we’ll be learning a new song to go along with this stretch of our series. It’s called “By Faith,” and is drawn from Hebrews 11. The song is a wonderful way to celebrate our place among the people of God, and our determination to walk today as “children of the promise.”

You can listen to the song below, and hopefully grow familiar with it by Sunday!

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New Creation

Our main verse from Sunday, 2 Corinthians 5:17, is a very interesting passage to try and translate from its original Greek into English, because the original is so abrupt. The first part of the verse literally says, “if anyone is in Christ, a new creation.”

By stating things in such a direct way, Paul is underlining that the New Creation is really here: no qualifications, no apologies.

It’s like if I said to my son, “When you’re done your school work, playtime.”

By using as few words as possible, all the focus is put on the arrival of that one, wonderful thing. It’s almost as if Paul is wanting to shock us into seeing how real and how dramatic this really is.

The New Creation is really here, and we’re really a part of it. May God grant us the faith to see and believe this today!

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A Prayer for the New Year

“O Lord, Length of days does not profit me
Except the days are passed in Thy presence, in Thy service to Thy glory.
Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains
    Sanctifies, aids every hour,
That I might not be one moment apart from Thee,
But may rely on thy Spirit
To supply every thought,
    Speak every word,
    Direct every step,
    Prosper every work,
    Build up every mote of faith,
And give me a desire
To show forth Thy praise,
    Testify Thy love,
    Advance Thy kingdom.
I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
    With Thee, O Father, as my harbour,
    Thee O Son, at my helm,
    Thee O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.
Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
    My lamp burning,
    My ear open to thy calls,
    My heart full of love, my soul free.
Give me Thy grace to sanctify me,
    Thy comforts to cheer me,
    Thy wisdom to teach,
    Thy right hand to guide,
    Thy counsel to instruct,
    Thy law to judge,
Thy presence to stabilize.
    May Thy fear be my awe,
    Thy triumphs my joy.”

— From “The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.” p. 112 (Banner of Truth Trust)